Porcupine Tree – Closure/Continuation


Let me start this review by making it very clear that I’ve never been a huge fan of Porcupine Tree.  I respect their discography, which I listened through a couple years ago in full (at least the studio albums), and I like a bunch of their records.  I can’t say that I “love” any of their work, though.  None of it means something to me on a deep level, not like many other bands who have literally changed my life.  So when I approach this Porcupine Tree reunion and their new album Closure/Continuation, I may have a different perspective than most.  The album releases on June 24.

Porcupine Tree are the granddaddies of modern progressive rock, the kind with the alternative edge specifically.  Listening to their discography, though, you will notice that they started life as something far more Floydian and psychedelic, perhaps even a little shoegaze and ambient.  I really appreciate those early albums, like Up the Downstair and The Sky Moves Sideways.  That, for me, is still their most interesting sound.  As the years went on, they incorporated more pop and alternative into their sound, exploding with popularity with albums like In Absentia and Deadwing in the 00s.  The Incident initially ended their career in 2009 with a good, though relatively harmless record that I still listen to occasionally.

My primary question going into Closure/Continuation concerned what sort of sound we would get.  Would they revisit any of their earlier styles?  Or would this be a rehash of their 00’s efforts?  The answer is definitely the latter.  Closure/Continuation is solidly in Deadwing and Fear of a Blank Planet territory.  It doesn’t even have the electronic edge that The Incident possessed, so in a way it is a regression in their sound.  Some of the songs here actually sound similar to Steven Wilson’s Hand.Cannot.Erase. record, minus the hefty emotions and fantastic work of Ninet Tayeb.  So, while this record does sound slightly more modern than, say, Deadwing; it still features the start/stop guitar trappings and pulsating bass of that era.

I have some good things to say about this album, and also some not so good.  Let’s go with the bad stuff first this time.  My problem with Closure/Continuation is that it is about as vanilla an album as this band has ever made.  Looking back over the vast creativity of their discography, I see albums like Signify and Stupid Dream that were quirky, creamy, and interesting affairs.  Other albums, like their 00s output, were emotional and truly affected me with the stories they told.  I don’t get that here.  This album is overall pretty dull.  The label sent the lyrics with the promo, but I haven’t cared to examine them because they just aren’t that interesting.  This is really strange, too, because even Wilson’s solo albums have wonderful lyrics and concepts.

This vanilla attitude extends to the music.  It goes without saying that these three musicians—Steven Wilson (vocals, guitars, bass, mixing), Richard Barbieri (keyboards, synthesizers), and Gavin Harrison (drums)—are all legends on their respective instruments.  Steven’s guitars are surprisingly heavy at times, and his bass lines are engaging, too.  Richard is stronger in the softer moments with his keys; and, of course, Gavin is one of the best drummers of all time (unless he’s playing with The Pineapple Thief).  No one can fault them for how they play on this record, and the mix, too, is absolutely immaculate.  So why is it that I can barely bring myself to care about the songs on this album?

It’s not just a lack of genre diversity or eccentric post-production, the songs on this album are simply arranged and structured in some very boring ways. They sound almost too perfect in the stalest sort of fashion.  It’s almost like these were the leftovers from several albums, and they decided to work on them minimally and release them as the fabled and long-awaited return of the great Porcupine Tree.  There is no depth here.  There is no layering or progression in sound.  This isn’t a “grower” of an album, either, as I’ve had it for months now.  No, this album just sort of exists; you hear it, you might bob your head sometimes, and you might even perk up at some great musicianship once in a while.  What you won’t do, however, is remember much about it.

I have to admit that the second half of this album annoys the living hell out of me.  Now, the first half is actually pretty good.  I like the single “Harridan” for its great guitars and catchiness, and I like the shift to a softer approach on “Of the New Day”.  I really, really like the song “Rats Return”, a song that flirts with the idea of being vicious and creepy: that song is definitely the most memorable overall.  I also appreciate “Dignity”, as it is beautiful, though it feels twice as long as it is.

But the second half, it just irritates me.  “Herd Culling” is an awful song with an intensely irritating vocal performance from Steven—-and this is coming from someone who enjoys his falsetto.  “Chimera’s Wreck” is another irksome song with Steven’s attempt at a playful little vocal rhythm, but it just makes me want to plug my ears. It is only 9 minutes long, but it feels like fifteen.  I don’t know why, but the second half of the album also feels mixed to be harsher and shriller, even thinner overall.  The result is that these songs truly lack range or depth, and I just want them to be done.  That goes for “Walk the Plank”, as well.

One exception is the song “Never Have”, one of the three bonus tracks.  While I wouldn’t say it is as good as anything in the first half, it is a smoother, lovelier song with some soulful vocals.  I do find myself humming that one.  “Love in the Past Tense” isn’t too bad, either.  I do feel that it ends on an anticlimactic note, but as a Porcupine Tree song it is fine: not good or great, but fine. “Population Three” is another grating track that belongs with “Chimera’s Wreak’, in my opinion.

Even they seem bored half to death

I apologize if this review has seemed like more of a rant. I had high hopes for this album. I, for one, liked most of Steven’s solo output: it was fresh and creative and diverse. I also like Richard’s solo output, such as his excellent 2017 record Planets + Persona. Gavin, well, I’ve harped on the snoozefest that his work with The Pineapple Thief has been; but when he is on fire, there is no one else like him. What went wrong, then? I don’t actually blame any of these three. I blame the wailing online fanboys who begged for PT to return, even if that meant these three musicians would have to shut off the most creative side of themselves to make it happen. This feels exactly like what you would expect from a forced reunion by three disinterested artists. In some ways, it seems like the progressive rock community has, in general, left them behind whilst they were gone from the scene.

Look, if you are a massive Porcupine Tree fan, you will like this record.  Closure/Continuation will give you just enough of the good ol’ days to please you for a few months, maybe.  I doubt most fans will listen to it long term, though, as everything here has been done before in other PT records.  If someone is just now discovering the band, they might not continue to explore their past albums, though.  It just doesn’t have the heart or personality of their earlier works, and it certainly isn’t as interesting as countless other albums by “smaller” bands right now.  So, sure, we can pay tribute to one of the bands that carried the prog torch, so to speak, but I’m not the kind of person to blow smoke up their asses to make them feel good about what they are creating now.  This is a subpar album, pure and simple, and I daresay they know that.

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29 responses to “Porcupine Tree – Closure/Continuation

  1. I am very biased being a bass player, but losing Colin Edwin is huge. I found “Harridan” boring because I could tell it was SW playing bass and it doesn’t have the soulfulness Colin has. I’m sure I’ll listen once, but I have low expectations just on the first single.

    Liked by 1 person

    • nope, i disagree. most of the bass parts on the p.t. albums were originally written by steven. i miss colin also, and am sad that he didn’t return, but get real. p.t. was always a studio project band. they played over steven’s demos for the final tracks….

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  2. worst reviewer ever. you have to be deaf? and you’ve obviously not really listened to the p.t. albums more than once, at best.

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    • Have you heard the full new album? I’ve listened to their albums many times. Like I said, if you are a massive PT fan, you will like this, at least at first until you are finally honest with yourself.

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  3. The Prog Mind seems to have some axes to grind. I think I’ll just wait on the album to come to us (you know that one he has had for months to review) before I put any real faith into this pathetic review, Seems Mr. Prog Mind needs to watch the video of Gavin H playing on “Our Mire” with The Pineapple Thief before he continues to disparage Mr. Harrison’s performance. I know he can find it, it’s free on Youtube…

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    • No axe to grind. Just expecting more from this “legendary” band. And I do encourage you to make up your own mind about the album. I would never ask anyone to take my word for it.

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  4. Totally agree, the singles are boring as hell.
    Rats Return riff is BTBAM (the future is behind us) rip-off.
    Herd Culling is rip-off of Sound of Muzak.
    Everything sounds like 2000s but uninspired. Just because it’s PT doesn’t mean it’s automatically amazing and I feel that’s the problem with prog scene now. Famous bands just rehashing their 2000-2010s material over and over again with mixing getting worse and worse and everyone is going insane when some new actually mid-level material is released.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I really really like the part where you say: “In some ways, it seems like the progressive rock community has, in general, left them behind whilst they were gone from the scene.”

    But the rest of your review just irritates me. And I apologize if this comment seems like more of a rant. It is that this is a subpar review, pure and simple, and I daresay you know that.

    I read it in your web, I had high hopes for it. I, for one, liked most of your other articles, but this is an awful take with an intensely irritating way of putting things. I also feel that it ends on an anticlimactic note. Sorry, but I’m not the kind of person to blow smoke up you ass to make you feel good about what you are creating now.

    Having said that, you have the right to review things in the way that you find most fitting, it is that your review annoys the living hell out of me.

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      • Above all, a hypocrite. You did the same exact thing, but by using passive-aggressive behaviour, or what were you trying to say by

        “How clever. Give yourself a good pat on the back for me.”

        but that my opinion was not valid for not being presented in a way that was intelligent enough?

        Your review is terrible, I wish there was a way to vote against it in ProgArchives, it doesn’t deserve to hold any weight on the aggregated score there.

        And, again, I didn’t particularly enjoy the album, I believe that it is several steps behind FOABP. This is not about being a fan of Porcupine Tree, I just truly believe that your way of talking about this album is puerile, moody, unintelligent and unjust.

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    • If you say so. It’s pretty funny that you must resort to deep assumptions or inferences to draw out that I’m a hypocrite. My review specifically notes that I don’t think this is self-expression from the band whatsoever. Their self-expression can be found in their solo works right now. That is where their creative sides live.

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  6. I’m just glad everyone can have a friendly, intelligent difference of opinion here. You know, without all the vitriol! Geejus! You all need to witness the massively fun and respectful discussions over at Angry Metal Guy. Anyway, I’m a massive fan of PT. I’ve spun the new album 4 times now. It’s obviously well played, with the usual stellar tracking and production, but yeah, I too feel like this was phoned in. It doesn’t hold up to the bar set by the previous 4 albums. A rating of 6 is fair. With the absence of Colin, could you only imagine what results could have occurred had Steven called back Nick Beggs from Raven, or Gavin dialing up Tony Levin from KC? Why not cross-pollinate with potential new fans from each of their new projects, who may even be unfamiliar with PT? That was a missed marketing opportunity. PT members have great contacts in the industry now, and I know Steven likes the guitar (and now) bass spotlight in PT, but anyone else wonder what could have been if Guthrie was integrated in, leaving Wilson to dial in the lyrics, vocal melodic hooks, and take his composing to the next level? Just thinking about all the possible guest appearances… a song featuring Bruce Soord? Can you imagine? Or next level stylistic composing with symphonic or jazz players (Gavin’s jazz solo album of PT songs anyone?) just anything to bring something new and fresh – it really could have been an exciting new chapter for PT fans. I really wanted to like this new album. It crushes me to say this next line: This super fan is unfortunately leaning towards Closure.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Part of it is the fact that these are old songs. When they decided to reunite, none of those other great ideas or potential guest spots mattered because this music is living in 2010 or so.

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  7. After listening to the album about 5 times I can say say that I really like it. It might not be the best PT but it is still strong. It is definetely not boring. I remember your reviews about Pineapple Thief albums, I think these are just bands that don’t seem to be your favorites.
    Btw, I also enjoy very much the new Evergrey album (you gave them 10 out of 10 points) but don’t think that they are more creative or innovative than PT. But at the end it is just good music and isn’t that what it is all about?

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  8. I think you nailed it, unfortunately, I can’t remember a single time in the hours spent listening to PT over the last 20 plus years, that I was as consistently disappointed by what C/C brings to the table.

    Like

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